LAS VEGAS – The sold-out crowd of nearly 19,000 people at Thomas & Mack Center stood in anticipation of Victor Wembanyama’s Launch of the San Antonio Spurs This Friday at NBA Summer League Against the Charlotte Hornets.
The crowd screamed as he stepped onto the court. They finally caught a glimpse at the 19-year-old receiving more attention than anyone else since LeBron James The league was founded in 2003.
Tickets sold out this week. This was only the second time ever in NBA Summer League’s history that tickets were sold out in advance. Zion Williamson’s New Orleans is set to debut in 2019. It was only the fifth time that a show has sold out.
Jerry West (whose face is featured on the NBA’s logo) and J. Cole, a rapper who has been in the NBA since its founding, were all present.
After all the hype, the show ended up being a disappointment.
Wembanyama’s nerves and rust showed. The No. 1 overall pick in the draft had nine-points on 2-for-13 shooting from the field, including going 1-for-6 from beyond the arc in the Spurs’ 76-68 win, a game in which he was outplayed by the No. Brandon Miller, the No. 2 pick in the draft (16 points and 11 rebounds), was outplayed by him.
Wembanyama also had five blocked shots and eight rebounds. He finished with the Spurs’ fourth highest plus-minus. Julian Champagnie (10), Blake Wesley Two of them, Erik Stevenson and (nine), went undrafted.
He wasn’t able to get what he wanted.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing on the court tonight,” said Wembanyama, who didn’t play in the Spurs’ Summer League games in Sacramento this week following last month’s draft.
Wembanyama identified his condition as a problem, and said he must improve it before the new season starts.
“Even though it was only 40 minutes tonight, when I was subbed out I was always tired and exhausted,” He said. “So, I think there’s a lot of conditioning to do.”
Still, Wembanyama’s potential shined through his rockiness.
He played the game well at times. He was able to win the first tip with a laughable ease. In the first half, he displayed some fancy dribbling tricks that amazed the crowd.
Wembanyama will be a better player when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gets his hands on him. He has to get back in basketball shape, and he needs to be confident wearing a Spurs uniform.
The hype will eventually fade into white noise. On Friday, though, it was at a feverish pitch.
Few days before his debut a bizarre video went viral. Britney Spears attempted to congratulate Wembanyama on his success at ARIA hotel and casino, a gesture that took a turn after she touched him, was thwarted by Spurs security and went on to file a police report.
This drama was the first indication of the scrutiny he is now facing. The circus on Friday was a great eye-opener for him, if he did not understand it at the time.
The stadium was packed with Wembanyama fans from around the world.
Dallin Biorn, 27, a Spurs fan from Colorado, drove between 11 and 12 hours to Las Vegas in order to watch Wembanyama. He said that he purchased three tickets online for $45 and resold one of them Thursday for nearly five-times as much ($215).
“I feel like it’s the next-coming of hopefully the rebirth of our dynasty,” Biorn spoke of the Spurs who, in the last four years, have missed the playoffs despite winning five championships. “So I wanted to see him the first time he plays. It’s a big deal.”
Michael Escobedo (45) flew to Las Vegas from Indiana in order to see the Spurs’ star. Wembanyama believes that if he stays healthy, he can become the new face of the league.
“I didn’t even know if he was going to play or not, but I still got [tickets],” Escobedo said.
At 7-foot-4 with an 8-foot wingspanWembanyama has a talent that is unmatched. He can shoot and dribble like someone one foot shorter. His unique frame allows him to post-up or rebound.
According to an NBA source, the myth surrounding Wembanyama could even surpass James’ 20 years ago. Wembanyama has become a legend because many people only know about his talent, or have seen clips online.
“We knew about LeBron,” The source said to FOX Sports. “We had watched LeBron play in high school. I watched LeBron play football. But Wemby was [in France]. It’s 2023 and obviously we have greater access to everything because of social media. But we don’t know him. I bet when you go down to that game this evening, if you were to poll the crowd and ask them how many of you have actually seen him play a game, it would be very few people.”
Wembanyama hasn’t really faced a real NBA challenge since his two games last October against G League Ignite.
Wembanyama’s disappointment was evident Friday evening. The normally bubbly interviewee’s body language was altered and he appeared to be a bit more tense.
He’s expected back to play Sunday in Portland. This will give him one more chance to wow the crowd before he is eventually taken off to avoid injury. (The Trail Blazers’ third overall pick Scoot Henderson suffered a shoulder injury Friday It’s not certain if he will be Sunday.
Wembanyama has made a name in France. In the past season he averaged 21.6, 10.4 rebounds, and three blocks in a game for Metropolitans. The youngest player in France’s LNB Pro A, he was awarded MVP.
Wembanyama, while a talented player, may not be the NBA star he was expected to be.
“By the All-Star break, people are going to have a better sense: Is he all that or not,” The NBA source told me that. “I think he could be. I just don’t know for how long. The ‘for how long’ part scares me. He’s got a lot of work to do on his body. He really does. Because of all the hype, people are going to go after him every night. So, we’ll see if he can hold onto that.”
Wembanyama would like to forget Friday, but it was only the beginning.
Kai Jones snuck up on him. He was exhausted. His performance was not impressive.
Spurs, however, believe it was an aberration. The young talent had barely had any practice with the team when he was suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
“I think all in all, he did a good job,” Spurs summer coach Matt Nielsen said. “Obviously, there is a lot of attention on him. You can talk about the outside stuff, but physicality and that was something they obviously wanted to line up, as you would, and overall I thought he came out pretty good.”
The world will be watching him, and that could either be a blessing for a young man who has the weight of the whole world on her shoulders or a curse.
Wembanyama wept on draft night because his dream of a lifetime had finally come true.
He made sure, despite all the chaos and excitement of his debut, to take some time to soak in what was going on.
“Special moment, really special to wear that jersey for the first time,” He said. “It’s really an honor.”
Melissa Rohlin writes about the NBA for FOX Sports. She has covered the NBA for Sports Illustrated and other publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Bay Area News Group, San Antonio Express-News, and the Los Angeles Times. Follow her @melissarohlin.
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